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Saw newest version of West Side Story and liked it. Different and grittier than the Robert Wise version, but Maria and Tony are wonderful—all of the characters more accessible. The dancing and choreography was not as sharp without Robbins at the helm, especially when it comes to Bernardo, David Alvarez, who has a great screen presence and remarkable eyes. But it’s cruel to compare any male dancer with the WWS ’61 fire eating Shark, George Chakiris.

The script is more attuned to reality, brutal at times, and the cinematography brilliant in some spots. I heard on NPR a LAT reviewer say he was not impressed with Ansel Elgort, but I thought he was wonderful. It was widely known that Wood hated Beymer, and I think that came through in the “61 version. Not so this time. The chemistry between Ansel Elgort and Rachel Zegler is sweet and charming, their times on the screen a necessary, stark contrast to the explosive violence of the gangs.  

 I did prefer the ’61 version of the Gee, Officer Krupke, which is my favorite song and showcased the incredible Russ Tamblyn. The LA reviewer didn’t sound that pleased about adding Moreno to the story but her character works well with the Spielberg vision of showing the futility inherent in racism and gang violence, which is celebrated more than decried in the ’61. The I Feel Pretty scene is better in this newer one, a larger group of women and a much better vocal rendition.

Speaking of grim and violent stories, I’ve included the review of The Last Duel, which was written while my laptop was in the shop getting upgraded.

THE LAST DUEL

Historians are not in agreement when it comes to the incredible story of Marguerite de Carrouges and neither is the content of this film, which is written in three different perspectives. Affleck, a writer of one of the chapters, commented that it wasn’t so much about historical accuracy as it was about the era. If you recall the story of Heloise and Peter Abelard, when they got caught she was sent off to a nunnery and he was castrated. How’s that for romance in the time of chivalry.

Rape was a serious business back then, and even though chivalry was touted, the practice of it was most likely different from the actuality. This was a brutal time, cruelty a way of life. This rendition takes the side of Marguerite, accepting her accusation as the truth. Her husband, De Garrouge, (Matt Damon) had an unpleasant, contentious personality. Her assailant, Jacques Le Gris, (Adam Driver) comes down through time as a burly, bullying egocentric adept at court politics. It was recorded that Le Gris protested his innocence on the field in front of many witnesses. This is no surprise. Consider the fact that he was Catholic. Some would suppose his firm belief in his innocence could be a sign of a clean soul. I keep in mind that according to his religion, all he had to do was confess to a priest and do his penance to be utterly cleansed of any wrongdoing.

About the movie, it’s never boring, even when the events are repeated. The two most dynamic events, the rape and the duel, are not accurately portrayed. The rape itself from court records was far more vicious and brutal than the screen version. Fine by me. What was filmed was violent enough.

There are witness accounts from attendees at the duel. The enactment as done in the film was INMH the best route to go. Jousting and hand-to-hand fighting with sword, ax, or any form of mace is dynamic and terrifying. Imagine the impact of that lance coming at you with the impetus of a charging horse trained for the task. The horse was not doing all the work. These combatants were scary tough. I’ve lifted chain mail. The one I picked up was 35 pounds. Medieval mail weight 45 to 50 pounds. Add plate armor on top of that from head to toe. Knights and other vassals fought with close to a 100 pounds of weight, a sword almost as long as their height, or some other form of mace, and a shield. If that wasn’t enough to handle, the crusaders had to endure desert heat baking inside a metal oven and did so for hours.

Conclusion: I really enjoyed this telling of a passion-wrought bit of history. But due to revisionism, especially in the church’s point of view, and the fact that there is little written for, by, and about women in that time period, history itself cannot provide a definitive recounting. This film leaves us to make up our minds about whose version is the truth. If you prefer less cerebral and more action, stay to the end for the duel. Brutal is nowhere near how combat was done in the not so romantic Dark Ages. Director Ridley Scott brought it back to the present.

M.L Rigdon (aka Julia Donner)

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